Gujarat to go ahead with Lokayukta law

The Gujarat Assembly on Tuesday gave a go-ahead to the controversial Lokayukta Ayog Bill of 2013, considered a diluted version of the earlier act. The bill had been sent back by state Governor Kamla Beniwal in September without signature after being passed on April 2.

The bill, in its present form, if signed by the governor, will replace the existing Gujarat Lokayukta Act of 1986 and give sweeping powers to the state government in appointing the Lokayukta. 
As opposed to the current act, which makes it a prerogative of the governor to appoint the Lokayukta in consultation with the chief justice of Gujarat High Court and leader of the Opposition, the new bill suggests that the governor would appoint the ombudsman based on recommendation of a selection committee, comprising the chief minister, assembly speaker, a member of the council of ministers, the leader of the Opposition, a Gujarat High Court judge nominated by the Chief Justice, and the state vigilance commissioner. The bill also provides for four Up-Lokayuktas, unlike the current act. 

The selection committee will make its recommendations with due regard to the representation of the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes, according to the current bill. 
As opposed to the current act, which allows a retired HC judge as the Lokayukta office, the current bill states: “The Lokayukta shall be a person who is or has been a judge of the Supreme Court or chief justice of a high court in a substantive capacity, while retired high court judges will qualify for the position of Up-Lokayukta”.

 In a major shift from the current act, only the chief minister, council of ministers, chairman or vice-chairman of a corporation established under the Bombay Act or Gujarat Act and owned and controlled by the state, vice-chairman of a university in the state of Gujarat and public servants as defined in the Section 21 of Indian Penal Code will come under the purview of the ombudsman. The current bill seeks to include the office-bearers of local bodies, like mayors, councillors and panchayat members, in the Lokayukta-fold. 
The position of the Lokayukta in Gujarat has been vacant since 2003, when the last incumbent, retired high court judge S M Soni, had stepped down. Soni was appointed during the regime of Narendra Modi’s predecessor Keshubhai Patel, way back in 1998.

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